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Review of our religious priorities

CONGRESSMAN CHARLES B. RANGEL | 7/7/2011, 11:02 a.m.

Recently, the New York State Senate passed the Marriage Equality Act. While there is no requirement for the same-sex marriage ceremony to be officiated by a religious leader, certain church officials have been vociferous in their opposition. Some have even threatened to retaliate in a political way against those legislators who supported the bill. At a time when our nation is dealing with crises in our cities, states and the federal government, we need all our spiritual leaders to focus on more pressing issues that impact everyone's life and death.

In the Bible, Jesus said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me." Regardless of one's belief, everyone agrees that we will be judged by how we treat our neighbors. Throughout the years, our nation's pastors, imams, priests and rabbis have been the moral conscience and guiding voices of our nation. They have stood up for our nation's poor, the elderly, the sick and the homeless. We need them now more than ever to help America remember its moral authority and obligations.

The birth of a child is one of the most precious things to me. However, we have trained many of our children to go to war and kill. More than 6,000 lives have been sacrificed in Iraq and Afghanistan for reasons we cannot explain. Even worse, many of the soldiers have been stretched too thin. Nearly half of the 2 million men and women who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan have been called for multiple tours. Many come home suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, which often leads them to commit suicide. We, the American people, have no input on placing these young people in harm's way. The last war that was formally declared was World War II. It has become an immoral tradition that must be stopped.

America has spent the last decade fighting two unfunded and undeclared wars, and is now engaged in a third conflict in Libya. In addition to nearly $4 trillion that we have spent in Iraq and Afghanistan, Libya has cost us nearly $700 million. We can be investing this money to create jobs to help families put food on their tables. Our attention should be at home on rebuilding America, providing affordable health care and educating our children to make us more competitive in this global economy.

As America grapples with unemployment, the gap between the rich and poor is widening. While Big Oil and corporations enjoy record profits, nearly 9 million American families live in poverty. A staggering number of children, approximately 15.5 million under the age of 18, live in poverty. With high inflation, rising food prices and the cost of gasoline, more American families have been forced into homelessness. As many as 3.5 million people experience homelessness in any given year. Of the homeless population, one in four is a veteran.

Despite all this, we have seen Republicans in Washington attempt to give more tax breaks to the wealthiest Americans while slashing aid for working families in our recent budget debates. When Congress returns from recess, we will have three weeks to raise the $14.3 trillion debt limit before the August 2 deadline. If we fail to raise the ceiling, as we have done 17 times in the past, and our nation defaults on its debts and obligations, there will be dire consequences.

Ultimately, the value of the dollar will go down, and more American families will struggle to make ends meet. Yet the Republicans have refused to negotiate unless President Barack Obama agrees to massive program cuts, such as Medicare and Medicaid, which will impact those who need it most. We need to make a shared sacrifice. The economic burden should not only fall on the backs of the elderly and children.

I understand the differences in opinion about the marriage between people of the same sex who love each other. However, the real question is how we respond to the issues of immorally sending our children into war, poverty, unemployment and homelessness. These are the more important matters impacting life and death.